New research: Inclusion in the higher education sector

IES News

8 Nov 2017

Recently published research reveals the breadth and depth of support for disabled students at higher education (HE) providers in England and points to important areas for improvement in disability support.

The research, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), was led by IES in partnership with researchers from Researching Equity, Access and Participation (REAP) at Lancaster University. It involved an online survey with responses from 105 providers in receipt of HEFCE additional funding to develop inclusive teaching approaches to support disabled students. In-depth case studies were also undertaken with 13 providers, which gathered detailed insights and feedback from 59 individuals in various roles.

In the context of considerable changes in funding for individual students and for institutions, and a dramatic rise in the numbers of disabled students, this research offers important insights into how these changes are impacting provision of support for disabled students.

The research found that responsibility for supporting disabled students sits at senior levels in institutions, but that providers recognise that supporting students is an organisation-wide duty with staff at all levels and roles having an important role to play.

Support, therefore, tends to be provided through a combination of central support and faculty level support. Central support tends to be delivered via a number of specialised teams which focus on the student experience across the whole of the student life cycle. Faculty- , school- or department-level services provide support focusing on academic concerns, ensuring subject-level issues can be taken into account. Further levels of service can be provided within institutions by those in a more pastoral role, or from external organisations – often brought in to provide specialist services such as assessments, or to support particular groups of students such as those with mental health conditions or those with complex needs. 

In particular, the report highlights the importance of cultural change in order to lead an engaged workforce towards consistently inclusive teaching and learning approaches. Most institutions reported high variability in their implementation of their approaches, which can result in patchy and inconsistent practice and pockets of good, but also poor, approaches. The report therefore encourages the view that HE providers must, in order to bring about cultural change and move towards greater inclusion, raise awareness and gain staff buy-in and engagement to embed inclusive practice. This is reflected in the recommendations of the report, highlighting the need for inclusive champions to lead forward the agenda at a senior level.

Models of support for students with disabilities

Read the full report